“The Igbo race of today is facing a historic split over its fundamental principles and identity and as such we have no time to waste, procrastinate or wallow in self-pity.” – Author
‘Truth exists, only falsehood has to be invented’. – George Braque
It is said that there are two kinds of truth. There is the obvious truth, the sky is blue, the grass is green and there is the intangible truth-the kind that requires one’s faith to be true. It can’t be exclusively proven or refuted as religion and conspiracy theories, but it can give you food for thought. Personally I am open to all truths and one of such truths that I have come to discover in recent times is the extent to which the Igbo race have changed.
The Igbo nation of today is a far cry from that of pre-war Nigeria. We have progressed and regressed in both directions. The truth however is that we as a people have changed in most spheres of national endeavor but we don’t seem to be aware of it. We are surprised when other Nigerians see us differently. We complain most vociferously when we are portrayed in ways unfamiliar and unrecognizable to us.
I once had a discussion with a Jewish friend of mine who kept complaining about how the Jewish people have been ill-treated all over the world from Hitler’s Germany to Stalin’s Russia and even earlier here in the United States. So I asked him if the Jewish people ever thought of looking inwards and asking themselves “Is there something about us that make these people of different cultures dislike us?”
He kept quiet for a while and replied by saying, ‘he had never thought of it that way”. That gave him some food for thought. The same can be asked of us Igbo’s in the context of our place and experience in Nigeria today. There is no doubt that ours is tinged with some envy of our entrepreneurship and a lot of misunderstanding. But even then the fact that some other Nigerians see us from a different prism from the way we see ourselves should give some food for thought.
In a few articles I’ve written in the not too distant past, I have been very critical of our present crop of Igbo leaders and elites. Most of the languages I’ve used have been very uncomplimentary and somewhat derisive and rightfully so. In my opinion most of our present Igbo leaders have been a huge disappointment and damn right disgrace, but there-in lies our conundrum.
Where there are leaders, there are also followers. There can be no leaders if there is no one following them and to that extent we the followers are as guilty as the people we have been following. Hence the saying, ‘a nation of sheep begets a government of wolves’. By following these leaders, we have done their bidding and repeatedly voted them into office. We have turned a blind eye and deaf ears to their looting and their penchant for self -aggrandizement.
As a matter of fact we celebrate thieves and vilify those who stay on the narrow path. We recognize the negative impact of corruption and while those who engage in it love it, those of us not involved, accommodate and tolerate it. We value innocence, but only the one we cannot alter. We throw mud at purity and mock it for its stain. All in all, blinded by our self- righteousness and cloaked in our full armor of denial we fail to see the error of our ways.
The inescapable truth is that we need a rebirth. Everything about us have changed from what it used to be in Post- Independence Nigeria; our politics, our culture, our reverence for education and our pursuit of material acquisition. We have metamorphosed from a people who valued education to a people who now deride the educated as elitists. When I read some of the comments made on social media, I am surprised at the growing cult of ignorance amongst our young Igbo population.
In recent times there has been a strain of anti-intellectualism spreading and winding its way through our political discourse, nurtured by a fake notion that ignorance is just as good as anyone’s knowledge. It is true that everyone is entitled to his or her own stupidity; it is just that in our present political climate in Abia state for instance, many have abused the privilege of being stupid.
The paradox of our time in history is that as a people we have come a long way from being given 20 pounds sterling irrespective of how much money we had in our bank accounts after the civil war to be millionaire’s and multimillionaire’s. We have come a long distance from a people whose houses were declared abandoned in some parts of the country to be owners of multi -million real estates. We have maintained our educational pre-eminence.
We have moved from a people who were butchered and massacred in certain parts of the country to be the economic engines of those places. We have come from having few senior army officers in the Nigerian army after the civil war to producing an Army Chief of staff. Our achievement list goes on and on, but despite all these bright spots we do have a lot of setbacks collectively as a people. When you look at the way we were before the civil war, it is not difficult to see how much we have changed.
The grim reality is that we have fast become a people lacking in self- control, discipline and foresight. We are full of personal vanity but with little veracity. As a people, collectively we have become too consumed by our sense of grievance, that instead of holding our leaders accountable for some of our setbacks, we blame everything on being marginalized. We talk too much but make less sense, not to mention narrower viewpoints.
We have acquired more degrees but less judgment. We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values .We have learned to make a living but not a life. We have become more religious but less forgiving because we have polluted our souls. We now buy and sell titles instead of earning them. We pray too much but love very little and hate too much.
Like Oliver Twist, instead of being grateful for the much we are given, we ask for more with a sense of entitlement. We have gone from being our brother’s keeper to being their kidnappers. Instead of people living in diaspora being happy to visit home and seeing loved ones, they now sneak into the country and then move around nocturnally from one hotel to another, so as to forestall being harmed or kidnapped. Money sent home to build a house is used by a relative or uncle to marry a new wife.
We have become so distasteful of the usual etiquette that we think valor lies in viciousness, integrity an insult. Our media sycophants now market name calling as truth telling, pettiness as boldness and vanity as conviction. Obnoxiousness has become the new charisma and lying to the people an act of courage. Today the most vulnerable amongst us are punished for the crimes of the crooked. In our public discourse, we now regard crudeness as the great form of candor.
Our politics is crowded and dominated by rich men with shallow minds. Our electoral process have transgressed from the peace and civility of post independent Nigeria to the display of coffins, the brandishing of knives and cutlasses, the destruction of campaign billboards and recently the burning down of an election commission building. Our politics have also to a large extent become one of Machiavellian scheming, lying and shameless lack of accountability.
The grazing of the truth has become our favorite pastime, even though politics has never been the realm of dispassionate truth telling. When you see our young people brandishing knives while demonstrating, having been paid a paltry sum of 2,000 Naira or less , you will see how much they are prone to reaction than reflection. In our political discourse we have become a society that would applaud the triumph of Ariaria market common sense over the academic experts who often are derided and viewed as impractical.
It is as if the entire Igboland have formed an axis of ignorance. We no longer have regard for facts. We tend to reject evidence contrary to our beliefs. We prefer emotional rhetoric to reasoned argument. In our personal relationships we are domineering and loud, no wonder others see us as always wanting to be in-charge. We have little regard for other people’s views, always looking to impose ours on them.
In our quest for material acquisitions, we cut corners, steal and defraud our business partners if we have to, not to talk of seeking the membership and belonging to secret societies. Not too long ago we gained a new notoriety as the Kingpins and experts at the crime of kidnaping so much so that it took the intervention of the army to bring it under control. It does appear with the present political climate in Abia , the crime of kidnaping is again rearing its ugly head.
As if that is not enough, we seem to have discovered another criminal pastime, that of burning down the businesses or properties of our political opponents. Just last week the Radio Nigeria pacesetter FM station in Umuahia was burnt down by unknown persons. Soon after in Owerri, a hotel by name Pretoria hotel was set on fire. As usual our Government and our police force are both incapable of finding the culprits, notwithstanding the fact that this new act of arson is always perpetrated against the opponents of a particular party in Government.
Again and as expected, our self-proclaimed Igbo elders are quiet. It used to be that elders performed the function of cautioning and directing the young. Now, our elders see no evil and hear no evil. They get paid to keep quiet. Instead of giving out our daughters hands into marriage we sell them to the highest bidder and leave them with nothing to start their matrimonial life with. Our word is no longer our bond. When we sell a piece of land, we turn around and sell the same land to another buyer and watch them fight it in court.
All the above now begs the question, where are we heading as a people? Is this the same people that hope to form the nucleus of a new Biafra, should we have get one? Is it possible for us to go back to the past or has time re-written every line? There is no doubt the strain of reliving the past, losing one’s identity and embracing another can be overwhelming.
Even then, the past is an indelible place. It is the landscape of unfiltered experience of things felt rather than imagined, a world with its beauty absorbed before it is understood, of life patterns that lodge themselves in our psyche and call out across the years. So when the past is left behind, or shattered an immense struggle often ensues to fill the void. We need to borrow from the good things of the past and marry them to the opportunities of the future.
Like Dr Alex Otti repeatedly said during the campaign, “the fish starts to rot from the head”. Now that we have a chance to change our politics from the head, we as a people must also change and it must start in our families, in our relationships, in the way we raise our children, in our businesses, in our schools etc. Change must come in our attitudes and in our pursuit of wealth as a consequence of which we have instilled consumption as an inner compulsion.
We must learn to disown and ostracize from our communities those whose source of wealth are through dubious and unexplained means. We must reject their charitable giving and spit on their ostentatious display of wealth. We must be our brother’s keeper and show respect only to those elders who conduct themselves with respect and integrity.
We must reject false propaganda and bear witness to the truth. Our taxes must be paid if we expect development but so also must the government pay our wages as at when due. We must also look for new leaders; leaders who are not only incorruptible but uncorrupted. Leaders who are strong but not rude, who are kind but not weak, who are bold but are not bullies, thoughtful but not lazy, humble but not timid, proud but not arrogant, have humor but without folly.
We need leaders who will not only speak for us but also fight for us. Leaders who will not only take us to where we want to go, but also to where we don’t want to go, but ought to. We need men of undoubted intellectual ability and unsurpassed personal integrity. We need all these changes due to the fierce urgency of a new Igbo rebirth and because every choice we make chains us to our faith.
The Igbo race of today is facing a historic split over its fundamental principles and identity and as such we have no time to waste, procrastinate or wallow in self-pity. At the end of the day we must be able to say to generations unborn, that we left them in a better society than we found ourselves. If we do this much, others can dislike us as much as they want, but we will be self -assured that we have fixed ourselves, so much so that when we look at ourselves in the mirror we will like what we see.
Nnanna Ijomah, a former Special Assistant to the late Ikemba, Chief Emeka Ojukwu is a resident of New York City.